In the remote south-eastern corner of South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, in what used to be called the Transkei, you will find the aptly named Wild Coast. A stretch of beautiful, unspoiled coastline still relatively untouched by tourism development, the Wild Coast is a paradise for hikers, as well as nature and culture lovers. This region was a so called homeland during apartheid; an area where blacks lived and (supposedly) ruled themselves. In reality, it was a marginalised area which is still struggling with a legacy of very poor infrastructure and high levels of migrant labour (meaning that most men of working age migrate to the mining areas in the North, leaving women, children and the old to fend for themselves). It also means that this is a place where you can still observe traditional Xhosa culture, and meet the locals in their territory (rather than in a staged environment like a cultural village). It is an area where tribal authorities still rule, and most of the region’s rural inhabitants maintain a traditional lifestyle without running water and electricity. Round huts dot the hillsides, witchdoctors (sangomas) treat the unwell, youngsters undergo traditional rites-of-passage and brides’ dowrys (lobola) are paid in cows after long negotiations. Although relatively few tourists visit the Wild Coast, many of the businesses here make an active effort to contribute to the local economy and is actually often one of the few income earners for local people.
At the end of a very long road that really has more potholes than paving (thus calls for good tires), you will find the beautiful little village Coffee Bay. Located at the mouth of the Mthatha River, it has plenty of swimming and surfing spots but also ample opportunity for other cultural and nature activities.
Stay at cool, funky and Fair Trade Tourism certified Coffee Shack to get the full experience. They offer double rooms, dorms and camping, and a wide range of activities from sundowners on the beach to cultural encounters to adrenaline filled adventures. If you are unsure of driving to Coffee Bay on your own (and you should be, the road is not only one big pothole but also sports various obstacle such as wood-gathering women, playing children and stray cows and goats) you can go by Baz Bus to Mthatha and arrange a transfer from there directly with Coffee Shack.
My top-3 suggestions for Coffee Bay:
- Hike through local villages to Hole in the Wall
- Learn to surf with former Pro-Am World Championship title holder Dave (Coffee Shack owner)
- Ride a horse across the sandy beaches and up on the hills to watch whales frolic in the waves below